Who is Ares?

Ares is the god of war and courage, one of the Twelve Olympian Gods, son of Zeus and Hera. The ancients saw in Ares the ferocity and bloodlust of war, but also valor. On account of his cruelty he is thought to have much in common with the Thracian deities, and in Asia Minor the Scythians held a yearly festival in which a sacrifice was offered in his honor.

The name Ares (Areios , ἀρή (arē); ἀρά (ara); means “warlike/ crowd in battle/ war”, and a pre-Greek deity of Thracian root is believed to be attributed with this title (“god of war”) Other deities are also called in a similar way: Zeus Areios, Athena Areia, Aphrodite Areia.

The war god’s most frequently mentioned companions are Deimos (“Terror”) and Phobos (“Fear”), who according to Hesiod were his children by Aphrodite. Ares’ sister is considered to be Eris, who is also the goddess of war, bloodshed and violence.

Other companions of Ares are: Kydoimos, who is a demon of the noise of battle, Mahai (“Battle/Battles”), Hisminai (“Act of Manslaughter”, Polemos (spirit of war), Alala (goddess of the battle cry in battle) and  Hebe (“Youth”).

There aren’t many shrines honoring Ares. Only a few are known, such as the altar at Olympia, the temple in the Athenian Agora (during the time of Augustus; then renamed the Temple of Mars), a natural rock formation bearing the name of Ares not far from Athens. It is believed that the Spartans worshiped him, but without a particularly large cult.

An interesting tradition of honoring Ares attested by an archaic statue of the deity in fetters at Enyalios, which occurs in Pamphylia (Anatolia), Syedra, Lycia and Cilicia. According to the oracle’s instructions, a festival was held to propitiate the god of war, as these cities were under constant threat of pirate raids. So instead of honoring the bloodlust of Ares, they appeased him so that there would be peace.

A personification of the god of war can also be seen in Africa, the chief god of the kings of Axum (4th century AD), where he is referred to as Ares. The last king Ezana, mentions: “the one who gave birth to me, the invincible Ares”; “my greatest god, Ares, who also begat me, through whom I brought under my power [various peoples]”.

Symbols of Ares: helmet, shield, sword and spear.

Myth of Ares

The god of war, the fierce Ares, is the son of the thunderer Zeus and Hera. Zeus does not love him. He often tells his son that he is the most hated of the Olympian gods. Zeus does not love his son because of his bloodthirstiness. Had Ares not been his son, he would have long ago thrown him into gloomy Tartarus, where the Titans are tormented. Only fierce battles delight Ares’ heart. He rages furiously amid the roar of weapons, the shouts and moans of battle between those fighting in glamorous armor, with a huge shield. Following him run his sons Deimos and Phobos – Terror and Fear, and with them the goddess of discord Eris and the sowing goddess Enyuo. The battle is raging; Ares rejoices; the warriors fall with groans. Ares is celebrating when he defeats a warrior with his terrible sword and hot blood splashes on the ground. He kills indiscriminately right and left; heaps of corpses lay around the cruel god.

Ares is fierce, furious, horrible, but he doesn’t always win. It often happens to him on the battlefield to give way to the warrior daughter of Zeus, Athena Palada. She defeats Ares with wisdom and a calm awareness of her power. Often mortal heroes defeat Ares, especially if they are helped by the bright-eyed Athena Palada. Thus the hero Diomedes defeated Ares with his copper spear near the walls of Troy. Athena Palada herself aimed his blow. The terrible cry of the wounded god spread far and wide among the armies of the Trojans and the Greeks. It was as if ten thousand warriors had cried out at the same time as they entered a fierce battle, and Ares, covered in copper armor, roared in pain. Greeks and Trojans shuddered in terror, and the furious Ares rushed, enveloped in a dark cloud, all bloodied, to complain of Athens to his father Zeus. But Father Zeus did not want to listen to his complaints. He does not love his son, who enjoys only quarrels, battles and murders.

Even if Ares’ wife, the most beautiful of the goddesses, Aphrodite, comes to the aid of her husband when he meets Athena in the fire of battle, and then the beloved daughter of the thunderer Zeus emerges victorious. The warlike Athens overthrows the beautiful goddess of love Aphrodite with one blow. With tears in her eyes, the eternally young, wonderfully beautiful Aphrodite rises to Olympus, and behind her is the triumphant laughter and the laughter of Athena.

Mars/Ares and Venus/Aphrodite, 1827 Alexandre Charles Guillemot